Father of the Bride

It has been a long and raucous courtship, but the Democratic Party has finally popped the question and now the onus is on Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his team to say "I do" or accept that the wedding is off.

The DP has said it will support the Government's political reform package - notwithstanding the party's many reservations about the slow pace of democratization - provided one relatively modest amendment is made to it. The change the party is requesting concerns the arrangements for electing the six (one existing, five proposed additional) Legislative Council Members from among the District Councilors.

The Government scheme says candidates for these seats must themselves be DC members, nominated by fellow DC members and only such persons can vote. The DP is accepting the eligibility and nomination arrangements - so as to stay within the definition of Functional Constituencies -- but asking for the actual voting to be open to all Hong Kong registered voters. This change is fully in line with the requirement for measured and orderly progress in pursuit of the move towards direct elections.

In a live radio show last week DP spokesman Lee Wing Tat made clear that while the party would also be seeking some reassuring remarks on the record from the Hong Kong authorities about its intentions for further reform in 2017 and 2020, the voting arrangements for the DC seats would be the only change it would seek in respect of the resolution to be voted on later this month which will shape the 2012 electoral arrangements.

As is traditional, the bride is playing hard to get right up until the last minute. This is understandable. After all, if the Government were to make such a concession now, who knows what other items might be added to the dowry before the scheduled vote on 23 June.

But decision time is approaching and cannot be postponed if the Government is to retain any credibility. The issue is simple: with the DP votes the reform package will pass, without them it won't.

So with the DP's proposed amendment a matter of public record, will the official side concede - gracefully or grudgingly doesn't really matter - or will it continue on the path to certain defeat?

If the nuptials were only being decided upon by the couple themselves then the most likely outcome would be a happy wedding. After all, both sides still carry too many scars from 2005 when they left each other standing at the altar to want to repeat the experience.

But just as in real life a marriage involves more parties than the couple at centre stage, so in the case of Hong Kong's political development the Father of the Bride lurks close by. From his Liaison Office home in Sai Wan he is not hesitating to make known his own views on what terms would be acceptable to win his daughter's hand. In effect he is saying that what is already on the table is all there is going to be. He is insisting publicly that the groom back down, but that only makes the groom feel all the more that his democratic manhood is on the line.

Are we headed irrevocably for another impasse? Is there no way forward?

In a real life situation of course the pressure would now be all on the bride to make up her mind how she saw her future. Give up her beau and start looking for another mate daddy might approve of? In the political context, there is no other potential partner. Resign herself to being an old maid and spending the rest of her life on the shelf? That would mean the Tsang administration was condemned to two years of irrelevance and would leave a terrible legacy for the next Chief Executive. Or make a tearful last minute attempt to sweet talk Dad? Or even threaten to elope?

In Hong Kong's situation, the last is the only real option left. Our Chief Executive needs to be bold and take his own advice: he needs to Act Now.